Steve Wells, Ellis Brigham’s equipment buyer
Steve Wells, Ellis Brigham’s head equipment buyer, runs down skiing’s biggest gear trends
The range of out-of-the-box fitting options available on this year’s ski boots is taking comfort and performance to new levels, and is convenient for both skiers and boot fitters too. There are now three main brands – Salomon (Custom Shell), Atomic (Memory Fit) and Fischer (Vacuum) – where both the liner and the plastic shell of the boot are moulded in-store to match the skier’s feet. No dark arts involved: just custom, precision-fitting around individual foot shapes.
It’s unfortunate that it seems to take accidents for attention to turn to safety gear, but following Michael Schumacher’s terrible crash this is exactly what has happened. Anyone who has been on the slopes over the last 10 years cannot fail to have seen the increase in helmet usage, to the point that they are now the norm.
The discussion around types of helmet and the protection they offer brings newer technology and design with MIPS, reinforced layers and different constructions coming to the fore. Interest in body protection and back protectors is also surging.
Not much had changed in goggle design for years, until the first rimless designs started appearing. Apart from a different look, they often provide increased peripheral vision and a better interface with helmets.
It’s not just style that is driving the goggle market. Models that are optimised for various light conditions are increasingly favoured; either designs with two sets of lenses (to cover low and bright conditions) that swap over quickly, or with lenses that react to different light.
Dragon and Nike lead the way with dual lenses while Oakley have introduced their extraordinarily effective light-sensitive technology.
LIGHTER, BETTER SKIS
For a long while, progression in ski design was focused on shape, with camber profiles recently becoming prominent too. The last few seasons have seen a growing trend in lighter, high-performance skis. This change is being driven by a number of factors, but key among them is the rise of the smaller brands (who are innovators, ready to try new materials and techniques) and the increase in backcountry skiing (which demands performance kit that isn’t heavy).
Watch for the lightness and response found in carbon-fibre skis (from brands like DPS, Whitedot and Black Diamond), plus the honeycomb technology on Salomon and Rossignol skis.
We’ve seen lots of radical shapes in powder and backcountry skis recently, with brands using five-point sidecuts and variations in rocker and contact points. Now these new shapes are filtering down to the thinner skis and hitting the mainstream.
Options like the Nordica NRGy 90 and 80 are using long tips and tails with set-back contact points for supremely smooth handling in ungroomed snow. Rocker on its own can have this effect, but combined with the new shaping it provides effortless control and stability off-piste without damaging on-piste performance.
The Armada Alpha X follows this thinking, and the new Völkl Mantra – 2014 winner of Fall-Line’s Ski of the Year nods towards this design too.